MMH officials provide overview of hospital services and expansion

Hospital’s CEO, board president address seniors

By Julia Green
Margaretville Memorial Hospital (MMH) Executive Director Ed Morache and Board President Carey Wagner were guests of the Roxbury Senior Citizens’ Club on Tuesday where they spoke and answered questions about the future of the hospital and its services.
Following lunch, Morache started the discussion by immediately addressing rumors that the hospital was closing altogether. “You’ve probably heard about a number of hospitals closing, but that’s not going to happen to us,” he said. “We’ve been around for 76 years and we plan to be around for 76 more.”
He added that the hospital has employed an architect and is looking to put together a master plan to improve energy efficiency and other aspects of hospital operations, including improvements to and possible relocation of the emergency area, incorporation of a family health center into the building, and a connection of the corridors between the hospital and Mountainside Residential Care.
Morache and Wagner also discussed the current state of the Roxbury clinic and the plans for improvement, stating that they are “uncertain” about its future and are considering several options. An estimate on the cost of improving the building in its current state was calculated to be approximately $650,000.

Building options
“At that point we said, ‘If the building is going to cost that much, what are our options?’” What they came up with, according to Wagner, was to either knock the building down and replace it or find a different plot of land and rebuild, a task that could be predictably difficult, given its location in the historic district. Roxbury Town Historian Peg Ellsworth is working on securing grants to help in the process.
“These are all things that are complicated and are being investigated – we’re not sure how it’s going to end up,” Wagner said. “We can’t guarantee that that building will be sound six months from now or a year from now.”
Community members also expressed concern regarding the lack of physicians in the area and highlighted the pending departure of Dr. Frank Sievert.
Wagner replied that they are in the process of recruiting new physicians, though he acknowledges the complexity of recruiting them to the area. “The average time for recruiting a doctor to a rural area is 18 months,” he said. “We’re working with eight agencies to recruit physicians. We’ve been looking for slightly over 18 months, so we think our time is near.”
Morache added that, “It’s not a Roxbury or a Margaretville or a Prattsville problem, it’s an upstate New York problem,” but cited the “Doctors Across the State” item in the governor’s budget that would encourage physicians to relocate to upstate New York.
Morache also discussed the possibility of using the community to train residents through a possible partnership with the Kingston Residency Program, which is another option that is being considered. He added, though, that another physician or physician’s assistant would stand in until a replacement is found.
He also gave weight to the claims that the number of surgeries performed would be cut. “Ambulatory surgeries will only be open a few days a week,” he said. “There is not a high reimbursement rate in New York State, so we need to be efficient.” Hospital officials will be meeting with representatives from Cross River Anesthesiology to show them the hospital’s surgery schedule and to discuss the possibility of an anesthetist traveling to MMH a few days a week.
Assurances were also offered that the lab would not be sold to LabCorp, another prospect that had created a significant amount of concern among the Roxbury senior citizens.
“The lab is not being sold,” Morache said. “We talked to LabCorp as a consultant to see if we are running it the best way. That is all. At one time we talked with LabCorp, but we were not convinced they could improve our services any. We may use them only as a consultant, but we are not selling to LabCorp.”
Another major item of discussion was the financial and billing aspect of medical care, with members of the group questioning the hospital representatives on the path of funds earned by the auxiliary. Morache and Wagner were quick to assure those present that all funds raised by the auxiliary stay in Margaretville, and that statements were only sent to Kingston for accounting purposes. “All spending decisions are made here,” Morache clarified, adding that while all billing comes out of a Kingston office, all money from Margaretville patients is credited to MMH.
A little over a year ago, the hospital opted to change its billing company due to dissatisfaction with its company at the time. A new company was hired and Wagner said that they have seen vast improvements in the billing process, including more clarity and understandability in the bills themselves as well as better customer service.
“We want to hear from people in the community,” he said. “If you have a question with your bill and you call and are dissatisfied, we want to hear from you. It’s difficult for the hospital to fix the problem if we don’t know the problem is out there.”
Those in attendance expressed gratitude to Morache and Wagner for meeting with them to discuss upcoming changes at the hospital and to clarify and put to rest the stories that had been circulating, as well as explaining the relationship of MMH to Kingston Hospital, which was described as being “in transition.”
“Margaretville was associated with Kingston Hospital and has been a very successful and mutually beneficial relationship,” Wagner said. “We have access to staff and resources we wouldn’t have had access to financially. Kingston is aligning with Benedictine, so now we [all three] will be linked. Sharing resources will make all three stronger than they would be alone.”
They added that, as a result, Margaretville will have more “freedom” than the other two hospitals because their proximity means that their services will overlap, but guaranteed those present that all decisions regarding services offered to the community are being made locally.